The California Public Utilities Commission has implemented new laws and regulations that make it harder for gas and utility company’s to shut off or disconnect gas and electric service to customers who are struggling or behind on their utility bills.
The ruling from PUC was intended to head off an expected increase in utility and gas service shut-offs before the coming winter months. The new regulations will affects customers of PG&E, San Diego Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, and Southern California Gas.
While it may be hard to believe, on average, nearly 70,000 households across California have their utility or gas service disconnected every month, while tens of thousands more get warning notices each and every month. In addition, the number of customers and households who are service has risen sharply in recent years because of the nation’s and states recession and high unemployment rates across the country.
As just one example of one company, PG&E, which serves over 5.3 million residential customers from Bakersfield California to the Oregon border, shut off utility service to more than 272,000 customers in 2009, which is an increase from about 180,000 in 2006. Once your service is disconnected, it is not easy to turn back on either. Getting the power turned back on is often a major expense, not to mention a “headache” for consumers because utility and gas companies are now often demanding additional deposits or fees to be paid by the customer that in most cases are twice the customer's highest monthly utility bill.
The new rules and laws from Public Utilities Commission will now prevent utilities from demanding additional fees or deposits from low-income customers and the new rules requires them to inform customers behind on paying their utility bills that they have a right to arrange payment plans with the energy company.
In addition, the new regulations state that for customers who have been disconnected from their service but who don't qualify for low-income utility bill assistance programs, the ruling will now reduce the maximum deposit that is required to reconnect their utility service to twice the average monthly bill, instead of twice the maximum utility bill. That's a significant difference in a customers favor, as utility bills often spike in the hot summer months, so now the deposit will not be as large.
In addition, those customers who are now currently dependent on medical life-support equipment while at home or in their apartment and who have special cooling or heating needs will not be disconnected from their utility service without an in-person visit from a utility representative.
Smaller deposits, payment plans and waiving deposits are all things the utilities can do to help customers through these difficult times that thousands of people are facing.